Thursday, 25 July 2024


CLEARLAKE – The county's SWAT and negotiation teams were called out late Saturday night to respond to a situation involving a Clearlake man who allegedly fired shots at an unoccupied vehicle and later barricaded himself in a residence.

Ameni Kawmen Crockett, 36, was arrested Sunday morning on several felony and misdemeanor charges – including assault with a firearm – after the SWAT team forced him out of a trailer, according to Sgt. Rodd Joseph of the Clearlake Police Department.

Joseph said that just after 10:30 p.m. Saturday police received a report of multiple shots fired in the area of Cass and Huron avenues, located off Old Highway 53.

One of witnesses to the incident followed Crockett back to a unit at Lakeland Resort on Old Highway 53, he said.

Joseph and another officer were the first on scene, and he said witnesses pointed them to the Lakeland Resort unit where Crockett had barricaded himself.

Clearlake Police – with the assistance of the Lake County Sheriff's Office – established a perimeter around the scene. Using the public address system in Joseph's car, authorities tried to call Crockett out, but he refused to comply, Joseph said.

Because they believed Crockett could be armed with a handgun, along with his refusal to come out, the Lake County SWAT Team and the hostage negotiation team were called at about 11 p.m. Saturday, according to Joseph.

Joseph said Old Highway 53 was closed to traffic and neighbors in the units next to that in which Crockett was barricaded were evacuated to Clearlake City Hall.

The SWAT team arrived about an hour and a half later after the group was called, Joseph said. As the SWAT team members were getting suited up, the Lake County District Attorney's Office was contacted and that agency sent out an investigator, who responded to the Clearlake Police Department to begin working on a search warrant.

When the SWAT team got on scene they tried unsuccessfully to get Crockett out of the residence. Joseph said that during the coming hours the hostage negotiation team established phone contact with Crockett and continued a dialogue with him.

Finally, at about 7 a.m. Sunday, Judge Stephen Hedstrom signed the search warrant prepared by the district attorney's investigator, Joseph said.

The SWAT team deployed a camera which determined Crockett still was inside the Lakeland Resort unit, Joseph said.

Once police had the search warrant and it became clear that Crockett wasn't going to come out on his own, Joseph said the SWAT team deployed chemicals into the trailer.

Within a few minutes, Crockett came out the back door and was taken into custody just after 7 a.m. Joseph said Crockett was treated for the teargas and arrested.

Clearlake Police officers then conducted a search of the trailer, finding no one else inside, Joseph said.

In the area where the shots originally were reported, police found two bullets in a vehicle and one in a parked boat near the intersection of Cass and Huron avenues, according to Joseph.

While the investigation is still pending, Joseph said Crockett – who has had numerous contacts with Clearlake Police – already has been charged with two counts of assault with a firearm on a person.

“There were two people standing near the car when the shots were fired,” he said.

Crockett, who is a convicted felon, also was charged with being a prohibited person in possession of ammunition, exhibiting a firearm, willful discharge of a firearm in a negligent manner, shooting at an unoccupied vehicle or dwelling, and obstructing or resisting a peace office, Joseph said.

Joseph said Crockett also allegedly was found in possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, which resulted in additional charges.

Crockett's bail has been set at $10,000, according to Lake County Jail records.

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Hundreds of earthquakes rattled across California and Baja California this week, including a 3.3 near Oakland and a 3.0 near Los Angeles on Saturday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake near Oakland was felt as far away as Ukiah, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

Earthquakes and aftershocks continued to rock Baja and Southern California since the 7.2 magnitude temblor on April 4, with three out of the dozens of quakes recorded on Saturday above 3.0. The US Geological Survey said the strongest of those quakes was a 4.3-magnitude temblor near Guadalupe Victoria, Baja California, Mexico.

Nearly two dozen earthquakes were recorded at The Geysers on Saturday; the largest being a 2.0 magnitude, which occurred at 10:11 a.m. and was felt as far away as Berkeley, according to the US Geological Survey.

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CLEARLAKE – A man whose body was pulled from Clear Lake early Thursday morning has been identified.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office identified the drowning victim as John Michael Hinman, 42, of Clearlake

Hinman's body was discovered in Clear Lake about 70 yards offshore after his roommates reported him missing, according to Sgt. Tim Hobbs of Clearlake Police.

Hobbs said Hinman lived with two roommates in the 13900 block of Lakeshore Drive who reported him missing shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday, after seeing him last just shortly after midnight.

They found a note in which Hinman stated he planned to swim to Kelseyville and which led them to believe he might try to take his own life.

Hobbs said there were no signs that Hinman died from any cause other than drowning.


Bauman said an autopsy is pending to determine Hinman's precise cause of death.

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A sampling of the species of birds considered unique for Lake County. Photos by Brad Barnwell.

LAKE COUNTY – The annual Heron Festival has come and gone, but its goals continue around the year – to conserve, restore and educate people about the valuable natural resources and wildlife that Clearlake has to offer.

More concerned, Lake County-loving citizens are educating themselves about the land they live on, and how to keep it and its creatures healthy. Darlene Hecomovich of the Redbud Audubon Society reports that 1,871 people attended the joint event, which was the biggest turnout yet.

In 1994, the Redbud Audubon Society – formed in 1975 by a group of citizens – created the Heron Festival to celebrate the beauty of the springtime nesting period of one of Lake County’s signature bird species, the great blue heron.

Another important purpose of the festival is to showcase nature’s beauty and increase the appreciation and understanding of its value to all our lives, organizers said.

The goal of the National Audubon Society is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth's biological diversity.

The Redbud Audubon Society, Lake County’s local chapter, reported 300 species of birds call this area home, with the following species being unique: the great blue heron, the double-crested cormorant, Western and Clark’s Grebes, the osprey and the famed bald eagle.

Event-goers had the opportunity to take guided pontoon boat rides during the Heron Festival which made it easier to see the local bird life, and their nests.

Floyd Hayes, pontoon boat guide and professor at Pacific Union College, said that 85 heron nests were counted in late March, so they seem to be doing well.

The National Audubon society designated Clear Lake, and the 50,000 acres surrounding it, as an Important Bird Area; the Important Bird Area Program aims to conserve areas that are vital to birds and other biodiversity. It was launched in California in 1996 but didn’t really take hold until 2000 when an IBA report was initiated.

The Heron Festival attracted many bird watchers and nature enthusiasts. Ever since the event joined forces with the Wildflower Brunch in 2004, a variety of other people also flock to show their support for Mother Nature.

“I think we’ve helped each other pretty equally,” said Madelene Lyon, president of the Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association (CLSPIA). “The Heron Festival used to be held at Anderson Marsh National Park but it was nowhere near as conducive as the Clear Lake State Park.”

CLSPIA, a nonprofit organization, began the Wildflower Brunch to raise funds towards their goal, which is also to educate the public about the valuable and important natural and cultural resources located in the Clear Lake State Park and surrounding areas.

With so many groups having similar goals, Clear Lake is on the right track. Attitudes have drastically changed from the times when sulfur and mercury mines carved their way into the lake’s shores, embedding the lake with their runoff.

Clear Lake is labeled as an “impaired water body” by the state of California under the Clean Water Act, due to mainly the overload of nutrients, as Lake County News has reported.

In the 1870s, the newly discovered lush landscape and mineral-packed springs lured thousands of settlers to Clear Lake. But, according to a UC Davis study, the massive influx of settlers altered Clear Lake’s ecosystem and watershed beyond recognition.

The economic boom from the early swarm of settlers was too good to let go, so when tourists and residents began fleeing the area to escape a species of gnat, drastic and unfortunately detrimental measures were taken.

Dichloro Diphenyl Dichloroethane, or (DDD), was used in large amounts and is related to DDT, or Dichlorodiphenyl-Trichloroacetic Acid. The UC Davis study reported that three large doses of DDD were used spanning from 1949 to 1957.

Aside from controlling the gnat population, the pesticides also killed off other invertebrates, which were food sources for many species of birds. As a result, bird populations declined, died off and have made a very slow recovery.

According to the UC Davis study, Clear Lake is the first area where the negative effects from pesticides on bird populations were actually documented. But, wildlife populations is not the only this that has been in decline.

Over 85 percent of the area’s natural wetlands have dissipated due to both natural and anthropogenic stresses, according to the study. And now, 80 percent of the fish in Clear Lake are species that were introduced.

Five decades later, it seems Mother Nature has bounced back. At this year’s Heron Festival, event-goers were pleased to see many dwindling species of birds soaring these beautiful, clean skies once again.

Regarding when the DDT was sprayed, Hayes mentioned several species of birds that were affected most.

“The main problem with high level predators like the bald eagle and osprey is that they were really hard hit,” he said, explaining that those birds rely mainly on the kind of fish that the DDT killed.

He also attributed a decline in bird populations to low water levels, which generally means a low food source.

“When winter gets really cold, fish like the shad – a main food source for the grebes – die off and as a result of the colder temperature in the low water levels,” he said.

Having wildlife population data is crucial in the efforts of the groups to conserve, restore and showcase the natural beauty. Community members can pitch in and help collect data during the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Hecomovich said that both counts monitor the population and movement in the winter time. The Christmas Bird Count takes place on one day between Dec. 14 and Jan. 4, the Great Backyard Bird Count is over a four-day weekend in mid February

Christmas Bird Count participants “are more apt to be hard-core birders although many novice and mid-level birders participate and are encouraged to do so,” Hecomovich said.

She said that many of those same people participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is more geared to birders with all levels of interest. Many of them – as the county's name suggests – are just interested in the birds in their backyard, Hecomovich said.

To find out how to become involved in the local bird counts, or to get more information on birding in general, visit

“The Christmas Bird Count is a time-honored tradition that has gone on for 110 years and is the longest-running bird census in the nation and provides scientists with valuable data of bird populations. The GBBC is a four-day event that just completed its 13th year,” she said. “In the Great Backyard Bird Count, either an individual or a team/family submits a checklist for the birds seen each day of the count. Then, Audubon uses this data to determine how many and where the various species are located.”

For more information on this topic, please visit:

E-mail Tera deVroede at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

MIDDLETOWN – Officials reported that a late Saturday afternoon crash resulted in major injuries.

The collision occurred shortly after 4:30 p.m. Saturday on Highway 29 just north of Twin Pine Casino near Middletown, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The vehicle involved – said to be a white pickup – had been reported all over the roadway about 15 minutes earlier and had nearly gone into oncoming traffic before traveling onto the side of the road, the CHP reported.

According to the report, the pickup then rolled over. A boulder was reported to be in the road and the pickup was on its side.

Major injuries were reported but additional details about the crash were not immediately available Saturday night.

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LAKE COUNTY – This week state and local authorities took part in a sweep to ensure convicted sex offenders are complying with registration, parole and probation requirements.

This past Wednesday, May 12, the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit coordinated a Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force compliance and enforcement operation in Lake County. The operation was countywide and included all Lake County cities and communities, according to Capt. James Bauman.

Wednesday’s operation was coordinated by Detective Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Bauman reported.

He said 45 law enforcement officers from 11 different federal, state and local public safety agencies formed seven teams of five to six officers each, to contact a total of 70 convicted sex offenders in the county who are either currently on California Department of Corrections parole or local probation. Ninety-eight percent of the target subjects were convicted felons.

During the day-long operation, a total of 15 arrests were made for a total of 10 parole violations, one felony probation violation, two misdemeanor probation violations and four served misdemeanor arrest warrants, said Bauman.

Several computers were seized for forensic examinations of suspected unlawful content and two new cases were opened to investigate suspected sex registrant violations, he said. Fresh charges are also anticipated on some of the arrests pending further investigation.

Wednesday’s operation included members of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Lake County Probation, and the Clear Lake office of the California Highway Patrol, Bauman reported.

Agencies outside Lake County assisting with Wednesday’s operation included California State Parole, the U.S. Marshall’s Service, and Region II SAFE Task Force members from Marin, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

The Region II SAFE Task Force is charged with monitoring convicted sex offenders and enforcing the terms of sex registration, state parole, local probation and compliance with other state laws, Bauman said. The Region II SAFE Task Force is comprised of agents from Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake, Napa, Solano, Marin, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

SAFE Task Force operations are grant funded and include a public awareness component as part of the grant program, Bauman reported. Here in Lake County, public education presentations are available to any group or organization, particularly parent-teacher organizations, on Internet predator safety and can be arranged by contacting Detective Mike Curran at 707-262-4200.

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LAKE COUNTY – A series of televised debates held for the sheriff, district attorney, superintendent of schools and District 2 supervisor races are all now available online.

The debates can be found online at (which offers very high quality resolution), or at TV8's Web site,

Specific links for the debates are listed below.

First district attorney candidates' debate (held March 30, Lakeport):

Second district attorney candidates' debate (held April 15, Middletown):

County superintendent of schools candidates' debate (held April 19, Lakeport):

District 2 supervisor candidates' debate (held April 27, Clearlake):

First sheriff candidates' debate (held April 28, Lakeport):

Second sheriff candidates' debate (held May 5, Middletown):

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MIDDLETOWN – Students, parents and Middletown Unified School District personnel got a surprise Friday morning when most of the district's bus drivers took part in a sickout.

Four of the district's six drivers called in sick and didn't show up to drive children to school, said District Superintendent Dr. Korby Olson.

The timing appeared to be due to a specific reason. “Today is the day we were delivering classified layoff notices,” said Olson.

Olson delivered those 34 notices with the classified employees union president, who he said hadn't known anything about what appeared to be a unilateral action by the four bus drivers.

He said 17.5 full-time equivalent classified positions are being laid off as the district seeks ways of cutting $1.5 million from its $14 million budget.

Some of those employees who received layoff notices will maintain jobs because they have bumping rights into other positions, he said.

However, Olson noted that it was a lot of lost jobs for the district. “It's painful.”

The school district's board of trustees made the decision to give out the notices at its Wednesday meeting, which Olson said was long and difficult.

The Thursday notices followed the pink slips handed out to 12 teachers at the end of March. Of those, 11 will be reduced for a total of just over 9.5 full-time positions, Olson said.

Olson notified parents via e-mail Friday morning that the school district planned to run all of its usual bus routes with only two buses, resulting in a 45-minute delay for Cobb Mountain Elementary and Coyote Valley Elementary School's buses. However, schools still began on time.

“We don't have backups, which is a problem,” said Olson, adding, “We were able to get them all to school.”

Later in the day, Olson reported to parents that the same two buses would take students home, with run expected to be up to 45 minutes late.

Incidentally, Friday also was the day that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's May Revise of his budget came out. The impacts on local schools won't be known until later this month, according to Lisa Cockerton, business manager for Lucerne Elementary School.

Middletown is not alone in its budget struggles. As school districts around Lake County struggle with declining enrollment and less funding, dozens of classified and certificated employees are facing the loss of their jobs.


Lake County News will present an overview of the present budget situation for the local districts and their proposed employee cuts once the effects of the May revise have been analyzed.


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LAKE COUNTY – A man who tried to kill his girlfriend 20 years ago was denied parole once again in a hearing that took place this past week.

Richard Dowdle, 55, was once again denied parole by the Board of Prison Terms, which held his parole hearing on Tuesday, May 11, at Corcoran State Prison.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff attended the parole hearing to argue against Dowdle’s release. It was the sixth parole hearing for Dowdle Hinchcliff has attended.

Dowdle was sentenced to life plus five years in August of 1990 for the attempted murder of his girlfriend at the time, according to Hinchcliff. Dowdle was sentenced by Judge Robert L. Crone and prosecuted by current Superior Court Judge Richard C. Martin. He initially became eligible for parole in May of 2000.

On January 17, 1990, Dowdle was released from the Hill Road Jail in Lakeport after serving jail time on a domestic violence offense against the same victim, according to the investigation.

Dowdle and the victim returned to their residence on Emerald Drive in Kelseyville that day, and Dowdle discovered that the victim had moved her 17-year-old son and a friend of his into the residence to help pay rent.

Dowdle, who worked in The Geysers steamfield as a driller, and who was a cross-dresser, was upset that there were “intruders” in the house. He stated that being a “roughneck” he would be too embarrassed to wear female clothing in front of the “intruders.”

He became angry and confronted his girlfriend while she was in the bedroom with their 11-month-old baby daughter. Dowdle punched the woman in the face, causing a fracture. He then went into the kitchen, retrieved a butcher knife, returned to the bedroom and stabbed the victim several times in the shoulder and abdomen.

When deputy sheriff’s arrived and entered the residence, they found that Dowdle had used the knife to cut his own throat and disembowel himself. Despite her injuries, the girlfriend survived.

At Dowdle's previous parole hearings, the Board of Parole Hearing Commissioners had denied parole but gave new parole hearing dates every two years.

Dowdle had been told numerous times by counselors, commissioners and psychiatrists that he needed to attend Alcoholics Anonymous classes to address alcohol issues and take domestic violence and anger management classes to address his domestic violence problems. However, he has not participated in the programs he has been told to participate in.

The parole commissioners agreed with Hinchcliff that it was clear Dowdle still presents a substantial risk of danger to women if he were released and he is unlikely to participate in the counseling he needs to get paroled.

They also concluded there was no point in continuing to set parole hearings every two years, which puts the victim through the ordeal of having to attend those hearings every two years.

The commissioners denied parole this time for 10 years, and his next hearing will be in 2020, Hinchcliff said.

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"Veggie Girl" columnist Esther Oertel looks at local produce and how to use it in creative, delicious and healthy ways. Courtesy photo.



It’s not often that I refer to a vegetable as “mighty,” but it’s hard to resist calling kale anything else.

First of all, its sheer hardiness is unmatched by any other vegetable.

It’s rarely ravaged by pests or diseases, even those that strike other members of its family. It’s in the species Brassica oleracea, which contains a wide array of vegetables, including cabbage, broccoli and collard greens.

Kale, a spring crop, thrives in cool temperatures and shuns the warmer days of summer. Northern Europeans love it for its tolerance to cold winters; there it’s valued for providing an early supply of greens. Expose it to frost and its flavor becomes deeper and sweeter.

Kale’s cabbage-like, loosely arranged leaves are beautiful for landscaping, especially because its colors range from shades of green to rich purple. Some have ruffled leaves and the endearingly named dinosaur kale has leaves that resemble reptilian skin.

Kale is one of the oldest vegetables, having been grown in its present form by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago. Up until the middle ages, it was the most common green vegetable in Europe.

It’s also one of the most nutritious veggies on the planet. Full of vitamins K, C and A, a variety of minerals and an arsenal of cancer-fighting agents, it packs more nutrients into each calorie than anything we consume. In fact, it’s so full of Vitamin K (1,327.6 per cent of our daily requirement, to be exact), that folks on prescription blood thinners should stay away from its deep green goodness.

Kale is a powerful antioxidant. As well, it contains sulforaphane, a chemical released when kale is chopped that is believed to have potent anti-cancer properties.

There are so many culinary uses for this earthy, bittersweet vegetable that I was hard-pressed to pick just one recipe to share.

It can be sautéed, braised, boiled, stir-fried, steamed and roasted, added to pots of soups, stews and beans, and used in a variety of cuisines, including Northern European, Mediterranean, Asian, Caribbean and the Southern U.S. It can be made into pesto or thrown into a fruit smoothie to make a healthy green shake (but be sure to remove the tough center rib first).

It goes particularly well with white beans, sausages or tomatoes in a soup. When served on its own, a squeeze of lemon or a bit of red wine vinegar is nice as a seasoning. Kale does not work well when used raw in a salad, unless tender baby kale is used.

My favorite way of preparing it is simple: sautéed in a skillet with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and garlic. Water droplets on the leaves left from washing the kale provide enough liquid for the cooking process; however, if it becomes dry, add a bit of vegetable broth or some more water. After it’s had a nice sauté, finish the dish by covering the pan and steaming the kale until tender and sweet.

Keep in mind that kale takes longer to become tender than other greens such as chard or collards. Cooking it to a tender state removes some of the bitterness that may be present otherwise.

For an added treat, I combine the cooked kale with caramelized onions to use as a topping for polenta, to accompany roasted sweet potatoes or as a green bed on which to rest grilled salmon or chicken.

As our weather grows warmer, less kale will be available at local farmers’ markets. Judith Biggs, self-described “growing artist” of Bio Farm in Kelseyville, had plenty of organically-grown kale at her booth Saturday at the Steele Winery farmers’ market. Her supply will wane as our summer nears, so buy quickly! In addition to mature kale, she has baby kale available.

The recipe I’d like to share with you is unusual but tasty. Once you try it, it may become addictive. It’s a healthier alternative to potato or corn chips, so guilt is not necessary when indulging in this culinary treat.

Kale crisps with sea salt

For about three servings, use:

6 cups of firmly-packed kale, washed and trimmed

1-1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 teaspoon good quality sea salt

Toss kale with the olive oil and roast on a baking pan in a preheated 375 degree oven. Turn kale over and roast another 7 to 10 minutes until kale turns brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Best when served immediately.

Note: To trim kale, cut stems off and strip the leaves off the tough inner rib.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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CLEARLAKE – A parolee was arrested Friday afternoon after police say he ran another man down with his vehicle.

Arturo Lopez, 52, was arrested on charges of attempted murder, giving false identification to an officer and a parole violation, according to Sgt. Tim Hobbs of the Clearlake Police Department.

At 1:45 p.m. Friday police and Lake County Fire Protection District medical personnel were dispatched to Safeway in Clearlake for a reported hit-and-run with an injured pedestrian, Hobbs said.

When they arrived, police and paramedics found an unconscious male in his 50s lying on Burns Valley Road, just outside of the Safeway parking lot entrance. Hobbs said REACH air ambulance was called to transport the man to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for life-threatening head injuries.

Hobbs said police learned during their investigation that Lopez, a Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation parolee, was the alleged driver in the incident.

Lopez had allegedly been in an altercation with the victim before the incident. Hobbs said witnesses and evidence at the scene led to the conclusion that Lopez had intentionally hit the other man with his vehicle.

Shortly after processing the scene, Clearlake Police officers located Lopez's vehicle, which Hobbs said was towed and stored for evidence.

A short time later, just after 4 p.m., police found Lopez and arrested him, Hobbs said.

Following Lopez's arrest, he was taken to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake for medical clearance, according to Sgt. Rodd Joseph.

While Lopez was being examined it was discovered that he had pre-existing medical issues that required emergency treatment, Joseph said. Lopez subsequently was released from custody and transported to another hospital in Napa County.

Anyone who witnessed the incident is asked to call the Clearlake Police Department at 707-994-8251.

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LAKEPORT – The owner of Rattlesnake Island may have to wait at least another year before moving forward with building plans on the island.

On Thursday, following a four-and-a-half-hour hearing, the Lake County Planing Commission voted to require John Nady of Emeryville to conduct a focused environmental impact report (EIR) to look specifically at cultural and archaeological resources.

Nady, who has owned the island since 2003, said he already has done significant study in order to build a 2,930-square-foot residence, 1,258-square-foot caretaker's cabin, standalone bathroom and utility trenching on the 57-acre island off Clearlake Oaks.

With much of the public comment coming from concerned local tribal members – especially the Elem Colony – Nady maintained that no amount of study would ever satisfy the project's opponents, and he suggested that the EIR was just a matter of “kicking the can down the road.”

But Commissioner Cliff Swetnam said that an EIR was one way to answer concerns about the project and protect Nady if he or his family ever wanted to sell the property or were taken to court.

The discussion about the island illustrated the persistent, centuries-old conflicts between the western and American Indian philosophies of land ownership, private property rights and sacred space.

As Jim Brown of the Elem Indian Colony would explain, Rattlesnake Island is “the aboriginal pre-historic tribal township” of the Elem tribe, a place that he said possessed the tribe's “traditions, beliefs, religious practices, life ways, arts, crafts, social and community historical events.”

Brown and other community members – both tribal and nontribal – would appeal to the commission to keep the site's cultural significance in mind as they approached the project. While the commissioners said they were sympathetic to those concerns, they emphasized that they were limited in what they could consider.

Swetnam recalled his visit to the island several years ago, when the caretaker gave him a tour. He said he saw round impressions in the ground in places that had been identified as village areas, that there were grinding stones, and a lot of obsidian flakes and arrowheads on the ground.

Chair Clelia Baur visited the site 10 days before the hearing with the caretaker. She saw a new dock, a lawn, some small structures and outbuildings, large oak trees and the biggest buckeye tree she's seen in Lake County.

The grass was high so she couldn't see the native sites, although the caretaker pointed out a depression where one of the sites was. She also could see obsidian flakes, and there was a small solar panel array and small water treatment plant.

The island is home to a flock of sheep and some peacocks, and Baur said she also saw turtles and water birds. The caretaker told her that Nady has instructed him to keep the land as natural as possible, but they've had periodic trespassing and vandalism.

Commissioner Bob Malley said he visited the island Wednesday. “It's a well preserved piece of land right now, the way it sits.”

Community Development Director Rick Coel told the commission that Nady's current application was a new one. The last issue that the commission heard regarding the island, which took place at a January 2005 hearing, was an appeal of the Planning Division's denial of a zoning clearance permit for construction.

Staff was directed at that point to prepare a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of the proposed construction, which Coel said they did. As part of that, they hired archaeologist Dr. Thomas Gates, who prepared a project specific archaeological survey.

Gates said they dug 61 test holes and screened the soil to look for artifacts. They didn't have the authority to remove the items in order to take them for lab analysis, meaning they were limited to what they could analyze on the spot.

They found limited obsidian flake material and charcoal on the surface, the latter which he determined to be from brush burning.

Gates also found obsidian flakes – not tools or broken tools, which he said surprised him – as well as a silver dollar-sized area of finely crushed abalone and some clam shells. That was the extent of what the shovel test units discovered.

“In my opinion what we found in those 61 test units did not have much further information potential,” said Gates, with “information potential” being an archaeological term for the information that can add to a site's understanding.

Gates said the land is on the Native American Heritage Commission's sacred lands inventory. “In my opinion, one unanswered question here is what is the nature of that sacredness.”

He added, “I would recommend it's wise to find that answer.”

Gates suggested that if the project went forward, both archaeological and Indian monitors should be on site during excavation.

His report offered a list of items and what would result from finding them. He said leaf-shaped points or beads indicative of burials could result in a temporary work stoppage, burials could result in a full stoppage.

Gates told the commission that the island, which is eligible for the National Historic Register, is an archaeological district.

Community members testify to island's cultural importance

During several hours of public testimony, the commission would hear from numerous people asking for the EIR, and some asking for no project at all.

Nancy Kaymen, vice chair of the Lake County Heritage Commission, said the proposed mitigated negative declaration on the project didn't meet CEQA requirements.

Geraldine Johnson, chair for Elem Indian Colony, submitted a folder of letters from local tribal leaders asking that an EIR be completed.

Local archaeologist Dr. John Parker, who had submitted an eight-page letter outlining his concerns on the proposed mitigated negative declaration, summarized the main problems with the archaeological survey, including not determining the integrity of the cultural items within the project area. Nor was Gates able to wash the materials or sort, identify and classify them into meaningful categories, Parker said.

A mitigation plan for the site can't be developed if it hasn't been determined if the site is intact or not, Parker said.

He also emphasized, “Monitoring is not mitigation.”

Parker added, “If approved, you're telling the landowner and the Lake County community that we don't value even our most significant historical resources.”

He pointed out that Gates' report has three pages that outline what he would have done if he had been allowed to collect cultural materials. Parker said there was no part of the island that isn't culturally sensitive.

Victoria Brandon, representing the Sierra Club Lake Group, also pointed to the archaeological study's inadequacy, noting a biological study also was needed. The island is the center point of the first of the county's new water trails, she added.

Suggesting there should be a voluntary conservation easement over the rest of the island that's not included in the building project, Brandon said there were ways of redesigning the project to minimize the impacts on the area and its ancient cultural heritage.

“It's a really precious place,” she said, noting that it should be developed in the most sensitive way possible.

Reno Franklin, a member of the Kashia Band of Pomo from Sonoma County and chairman of the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, shared with the commission the island's wider cultural significance. “It's not limited to just the Lake County tribes in the importance of it,” he said.

In the 1800s, runners were sent to other tribes to announce ceremonies on Rattlesnake Island. Franklin said the Kashia Band made the long trip from Stewart's Point on the coast – through territory filled with people hostile to natives – to the island, where they would spend nearly a year.

The archaeological resources survey is the science side of the equation; Franklin asked the commission to consider also the cultural side. He said there is no other place in California like Rattlesnake Island, where tribal peoples voluntarily traveled for worship.

“To explain this to you, it would be like the Muslims and Catholic and Jehovah's Witnesses all going to one place to worship together,” he said.

Franklin said he has not been on the island, since his tribe isn't now allowed there, and to go he would first need clearance from Elem members.

Baur asked him how he felt about the building project. Franklin said it was a tough question for a traditional Indian man. He deferred to what the Elem tribe believes is best. “I would hate to see it happen if it wasn't done properly.”

Clayton Duncan of Robinson Rancheria said he wanted to see both Rattlesnake Island and the Bloody Island area – the latter near Nice – given back to local tribes.

“You have the power to stop development on sacred land,” he told the commission, adding that local Indians were asking for their help in getting their lands back.

Deputy County Counsel Bob Bridges noted that the commission was tackling issues that touch on very sincere and long-held beliefs. However, he said the commission administers the county's zoning and grading ordinance and, as such, “Your ability is pretty limited in the whole spectrum of things.”

Big Valley Rancheria's environmental director, Sarah Ryan, said the project required a full archaeological study, and she went on to allege that Nady previously had acted in bad faith with regard to environmental laws, and had attempted to interfere with the consultant selection process.

“You have an opportunity to be strict with this person,” Ryan urged the commission.

“I hope he does sell it,” she said. “I hope that the tribe is able to purchase it back, because it is their land.”

Rose Brown, an Elem tribal member, said the project has a physical, mental and spiritual impact on her people, who can access very few of their sacred areas locally.

“We want to go back to our sacred site,” she said. “This place has been sacred to our heart.”

She said the planning commission could change the bad affects on the tribe by denying the plan.

Batsulwin Brown, vice chair of the Elem Colony, said the people of Elem haven't been considered in the process. The tribe, who can look out across to the island, which isn't far from the rancheria, used to have a tradition of swimming to the island during the summer, a practice that is no longer safe because of boat traffic.

“None of this is a joke to us,” he said.

He added, “Every single town in this county is built on our bones, our ashes, our blood.”

Baur asked him what he wanted to see happen with the island. Brown said he didn't want to see any development. “The Elem people did not abandon that land,” he said, pointing out that it was in continual use until the people were forced from the island to the mainland by government policies.

Nady: More study won't end opposition

Nady, who spoke toward the end of the hearing, said he has been a part-time county resident for 21 years, and he and his family consider themselves a part of the community.

He said prior to his 2003 purchase of the island, the previous owner made him aware of past controversies with the Elem people. He said he spoke to county officials about his plans before the purchase and only bought the land following a thorough title search that went back about 150 years.

Nady said he's been through numerous delays, including the stoppage of work on a septic system several years ago. He said he's cooperated continuously with the county, and that the commission could count on his continued cooperation.

But he doubted further study would satisfy the project's opponents. “You could do 10 EIRs, it would still have the same opposition.”

He said he's well aware of the island's historical and cultural significance, and the project won't harm the cultural resources.

When he bought the land it was overgrown and strewn with trash. Since then, he's cleaned it up, including clearing underbrush. “We've always strived to preserve the natural beauty of this property.”

Nady's wife, Toby, said she and her family have loved the island since first stepping foot on it.

“When you love something or someone, you do what's best for them,” and don't try to turn them into something they're not, she said.

Noting that the island – with its grassy hills, open fields and craggy coves – is “easy to love,” Toby Nady said a person didn't need to be of Indian heritage to care deeply about “this extraordinary and beautiful land.”

She and her family had no idea how long and difficult the project process would be, but they want to be part of the preservation going forward, she said.

Swetnam, noting the island's significant artifacts and history, said, “This controversy will never go away if an environmental impact report is not done on this property.”

He said it was the best course of action for the sake of the tribe, potential artifacts and the island's history, as well as helping protect Nady's interests. Doing the study doesn't mean Nady won't be able to build a house, but the study, Swetnam suggested, would help put an end to the controversy.

Malley, who said he knows Elem tribal members like Jim Brown, said he understood how deeply concerns about the island run in their community. “I agree that it's an unfortunate situation that title to this piece of property ever was taken away from the tribe,” he said.

He questioned why the tribe hasn't pursued a remedy through the courts, and said he understands how concern for the land “shines in their hearts.”

Like Swetnam, he believed the EIR was necessary, but added, “I don't think that it will ever be settled as long as Elem does not have control of that property.”

Kelseyville resident Anna Ravenwoode asked that the commission require Nady do a full EIR on the entire island, but Coel said he didn't believe they could do that, as the project area took up less than one-tenth of the entire island area.

Nady's attorney, Frederic Schrag, challenged the idea that there was such a thing as a focused EIR, and said the commission needed to consider the cost of an EIR versus the two single-family residences proposed for construction. He said one previous quote for the study had been $250,000.

Swetnam said they were asking for a focused study, not traffic studies and other considerations that would make it more expensive.

“You're wrong, counsel, there is such a thing as a focused EIR, we've done it several times,” said Swetnam. “You need to get your facts straight before you come up here and tell the commission what we can and cannot do.”

Bridges said what the commission proposed for the focused EIR was envisioned by CEQA, and added that a photo simulation requested of the project was not an onerous requirement.

Returning to the microphone, Nady told the commission, “This project is on an endless delay. It should be obvious to anyone.”

He said the goal was to continually delay the project so he gives up, which he said he wouldn't do. Nady suggested that requiring the additional study was a taking of his property rights, and asked why the tribe had passed on a chance to buy the land for $10,000 in 1978.

Swetnam told Nady he's done a good job of taking care of the island, but he needed to understand that the commission's decision goes with the land, not the owner. As such, who owns the land doesn't matter in relation to the decision.

Before the commission took the vote, Coel said they were realistically looking at a year to complete the EIR process, which would include a request for proposals and consultant selection.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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